Oklahoma workers' compensation law: Back to the drawing board

Two years of court rulings chipped away at Oklahoma's workers' compensation system. It took a Supreme Court decision that the opt-out decision by employers unconstitutional to finally bring both sides to the table.

State lawmakers and prominent business community members wanted a fix that would end the ongoing legal wrangling that left the legislation in tatters.

House Bill 1462 meant to remove or rework parts of the law and clean up the language ruled unconstitutional. Representatives advocating for both the business and worker side sought a compromise.

Advocates for workers negotiated a 15 percent increase in permanent partial disability rates. They also wanted a substantial increase in temporary total disability paid while injured workers were not on the job. Conversely, the business community sought concessions that included a benefits reduction for limb injuries and the elimination of the right to get a second opinion in most cases.

That version of the bill from the Oklahoma House was sent to the Senate. However, legislators in that body incorporated their changes without talking to the injured workers' negotiator active in the initial negotiations.

Instead of an increase, the Senate version would have reduced benefits more than the infamous bill in 20013 that rewrote the state's workers' comp laws.

When the House refused to reject the Senate changes, the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee. The previous law or whatever remains of it continues to govern the state's workers' compensation system.

However, all hope is not lost. A sense of optimism remains where any other governing body would be pessimistic.

Negotiators on both sides promised to continue working together with the goal of improving and reforming Oklahoma's workers' compensation system. One bill may have failed, but two opposing parties did find agreement on certain principles and issues.

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